Strong week of new jazz releases, and representing a wide array of its various sub-genres. Some familiar names return to this column, but there’s a strong contingent of new artists appearing this week… either with debuts or stepping up from past efforts in a big way. I think there’s something for everyone in each of my columns, but this week reflects that more than most. Let’s begin…
Mark Feldman Quartet, Birdies for Lulu: One of the more striking albums I’ve heard this year. Loosely categorized, this is an avant-garde recording. Free sections, streaks of dissonance across the expanse of songs, clashes of silence and fury, and melodic interludes that can break every heart in the room. The thing of it is, Feldman’s quartet makes this album ridiculously accessible. It’s beautiful all the time, even when it’s not trying to be. Long-time collaborators, violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, add bassist Scott Colley and drummer Billy Mintz to the mix. Pick of the Week.
Color of the Year, Color of the Year: A sublime outing from the trio of saxophonist Danny Meyer, vibraphonist Mark Clifford, and drummer Colin Stranahan. Music that drifts along with the most peaceful disposition. Meyer’s sax expresses itself with a patience that allows every note to be enjoyed to its fullest before the next arrives. Clifford’s vibes shimmer with an icy warmth that bridges the gap between Meyer’s sax heat and the susurrant cymbal and brushes from drummer Stanahan. Stranahan’s drum work twitters with life, providing a necessary spark to the affair. A couple tracks get the heart rate up… “Twos” and “Children” both have some edge. Just a gorgeous recording. Highly Recommended.
Mark Weinstein, Latin Jazz Underground: Just a thrilling album from the veteran flautist, who employs concert, alto and bass flutes for this session. Joined by a strong line-up that includes bassist Rashaan Carter, drummer Gerald Cleaver, percussionist Roman Diaz, and pianist Aruan Ortiz. Ortiz composed the songs for Weinstein’s excellent 2011 release, El Cumbanchero, and contributes two more to this effort. Intriguingly, the quintet also covers songs by free jazz artists like Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill. That Weinstein is able to incorporate the cerebral nature of the original’s into a fluid Latin Jazz recording is no small accomplishment. One of those recordings that just scoops the listener up and carries them away. Outstanding. Recommended.
Andy Biskin Ibid, Act Necessary: A quartet of clarinetist Biskin, trombonist Brian Drye, drummer Jeff Davis, and cornetist Kirk Knuffke. This album plays out like each musician is attempting to recount a dream they had about performing New Orleans jazz, tin pan alley, swing, blues, and polkas… with each member of the quartet vividly channeling the dreams of early music forms, but now, awake and the dream fading, can’t help but color the dream retelling with sounds and methods of the present day. This is not a throwback album, but there’s no doubt it will appeal greatly to the old-school fans. And considering how entrenched each of these musicians are in the NYC scene, often with varied projects that sound nothing like Act Necessary, it’s going to offer all kinds of value to those jazz fans whose ears are very much attuned to the music of today.
Rob Garcia 4, The Passion of Color: Nice conversational tone established by drummer Garcia’s quartet. There’s an expressiveness fed by just the right accents and inflections at just the right times. Each tune stays close to a straight-ahead post-bop sound while always sounding just a little bit offline… and, thus, always a little bit different. Rendition of Max Roach’s “It’s Time” simmers with a compelling undercurrent of intensity. “The Still Standing Blues” simply adopts a cheerful tone and jaunty cadence. The title track has a nifty groove sandwiched between two freer, skittering sections. There’s no pattern to the differentiations, which really gives this album a very diverse and very wide horizon line, even though it doesn’t travel that far in the first place. Real good stuff here.
Jonathan Rowden Group, Becoming: Captivating album by the quartet of saxophonist Rowden, pianist (and keys) Ryan Pryor, bassist Chris Hon, and drummer James Yoshizawa, who also throws some pandeiro and bodhran into the mix. It’s a recording that goes through plenty of changes, and that may be the ingredient that most contributes to this being such a winning album. It opens with some avant-garde, moves into a straight-ahead post-bop, then a three-part suite that comports itself like a chamber jazz outing, moves into a bit of spiritual jazz, and then ends with some tracks that settle in with the modern jazz-indie rock fusion. One of those albums that is terribly arresting throughout, and then when it’s over, it’s suddenly revealed how much damn fun it was, too.
Christos Anestopoulos, Wish You Could Stay: There’s no avoiding the influence of Bill Frisell on this recording. And considering that fellow-guitarist Anestopoulos names two separate tracks “Friselland” indicates he’s fully invested in Frisell’s sound as both musician and fan. As a huge Frisell fan, this album totally floated my boat. There are tracks that sound eminently like Frisell pieces. There are tracks that sound nothing like Frisell pieces, but the use of electronics and looping and effects, and a strangely ominous jazz-folk hybrid put it smack dab in the middle of Frisell territory. A couple tracks incorporate some elements of Anestopoulos’ native Greece, and nothing about that breaks the album’s cohesion. Kind of jazz, kind of folk, kind of rock, all of them but none… music with personality and dramatic expressionism. Not just for fans of Frisell. A series of guests contribute to this album, on a variety of wind instruments, strings, and percussion. Very cool. Find of the Week.
Lucia Martinez Cuarteto, De Viento y de Sal: Lovely session from drummer Martinez, whose quartet takes its time developing well-crafted melodies. Post-bop and Latin ingredients mixed in together, and each softens the other to where the borders between the two become indistinguishable. Well, for the most part; a track like “Destino Vigo” would be a noticeable exception to the equal parts equation. Just a real easy-going album, and all kinds of lovely. The quartet is rounded out with piano, bass, and sax & flute.
Stefan Orins Trio, Liv: Likable piano trio session from pianist Stefan Orins, drummer Peter Orins, and bassist Christophe Hache. Several times throughout, it appears that the trio are going to steer the album into quiet Nordic jazz territory, but each time, they maintain an agitated state. The trio hangs its hat on the rhythmic element, with melody sitting in the back seat just along for the ride. Sometimes, like on the tune “Henri Grouès,” this is carried out at just a whisper.
Joscha Arnold Quintet, Twist: An album that seems like it crowds the floor with too many elements and too many ideas in motion, but from all that activity and conceptualization there emerges a positively alluring recording. Tenor saxophonist Arnold’s quintet has a post-bop mode of engagement, but elements of nu-jazz and spiritual make it hard to nail down. It’s that lack of singular vision that is the biggest criticism of this album and, perhaps, the thing that makes it so appealing. This is a common thing for a debut album, as this one is, for the artist to want to hit on as many creative ideas as possible. It often makes for some thrilling music, even if a bit cluttered. It also can signal some serious promise, and this album does that, too. So far, for me, each subsequent listen has resulted in a stronger connection with the music and revealed elements not previously noticed.
John Chin, Undercover: Refreshingly loquacious trio session from Chin, who’s joined on this live performance by bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Dan Rieser. Some originals, some covers (Coltrane, Shorter, Ellington). Whether up-tempo or simply coasting with his foot off the gas pedal, Chin’s piano seems to carry further and with greater strength than his unfussy delivery might otherwise indicate. It’s not unlike the strange intimacy generated by a huge firework show viewed from afar.
Ben Goldberg, Worry Later: This is the second time around for Goldberg opening up the Thelonious Monk songbook and offering up his typically inventive perspective on it. This time around, Goldberg is joined by guitarist Adam Levy and drummer Smith Dobson… still piano-less and still quite fun. The trio’s approach is both sparse and wide-open, fixating on certain elements of the Monk tunes and using it as the vehicle to launch into further exploration. Goldberg is about as creative as they come, and there ain’t a project of his that isn’t both insightful and enjoyable.
Charles Davis, For the Love of Lori: Strong outing from jazz giant Davis, who has lent his saxophone to some wonderful music over the decades. Joined by trombonist Steve Davis, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, drummer Neil Smith, pianist Rick Germanson, and bassist David Williams, Charles Davis and crew dive right into some serious bop. Music with a joyful swing and some smoking solos. Top shelf jazz that won’t be confused for anything else.
Jeff Davis, Dragon Father: From a live performance at NYC’s Cornelia Street Cafe. Joining drummer Davis for this session are bassist Eivind Opsvik, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, pianist Russ Lossing, and Oscar Noriega on alto sax and clarinet. A follow-up to Davis’s Leaf House, the newest has all that nervous energy, heavy volatility, warped melodies, and unconventionally personable tone… not unlike that friend that has abrasive conversational demeanor but always has the most interesting stuff to say. That’s this album.
Tal Gur, Under Contractions: Oddly compelling album. Led by Tal Gur’s alto & soprano saxes, this quartet (rounded out by electric guitar, drums, and double bass) uses languorous passages as the seed for its further explorations. Many tracks have a lazy peaceful ambiance that is all kinds of attractive, and sometimes these moments build into freer, more vociferous passages that leave the serenity behind. The quieter moments make the rousing sections that much more compelling by point of comparison. Neat album.